Global Gifted Education Awareness Day

I’m very reluctant to propose a World Gifted Education Awareness Day. Firstly, there are many other ‘awareness days’ we could have that are arguably more important than the education of 5% of the world’s population (and in truth, 5% of the those children who have access to any education at all). A World Down Syndrome Awareness Day, a World Autistic Awareness Day, a World Land Mines Awareness Day…the list is endless. That these are more important than the specialist education of a small percentage of children does not take away from the importance of a World Gifted Education Awareness Day. Indeed, such a day could serve to highlight the extent to which other issues tend only to be advocated by those affected by them, when in fact they ought to be a concern for us all as human beings. In proposing such a day, I am not just highlighting an issue in which I have some expertise and concern, but also highlighting the need to raise global awareness of the right of many whose needs go unvoiced simply because they do not or can not shout the loudest.

This then is my proposal. That there be a World Gifted Education Awareness Day. That this day would be an annual event. That the day would serve to raise awareness of the educational needs of gifted children. This flows from my direct experience and focus, namely that the educational needs of exceptionally able children often go unaddressed.

The genesis of this idea stems from discussion on #gtchat on Twitter where the question being debated was how schools serve the needs of exceptionally able children. I know that every year since 1994 there has been a World Teachers’ Day which is essentially a ‘teacher appreciation week’. According to the UNESCO site, World Teachers’ Day

‘…commemorates the anniversary of the signing in 1966 of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers. It is an occasion to celebrate the essential role of teachers in providing quality education at all levels’.

That awareness of the needs of gifted children is poor among teachers generally can not be said to be the fault of teachers. Graduates receive their training to qualify as a teacher. Thereafter, there seems to be little requirement for them to be aware of the variety of needs in their classrooms, let alone develop specific competencies to address these needs. The day-to-day practical realities of teaching are often sufficient to swallow up teachers’ day time activities and indeed, much of their time after the end of the timetable.

Continuing Professional Development requirements vary globally and, in my limited knowledge of this, there is no requirement to pursue specific courses other than to demonstrate participation in some form of CPD up to a minimum number of hours. In Ireland, there is as yet no requirement for teachers to undertake CPD.

Even if teachers have the pedagogical tools, institutional and administrative supports may be missing that would facilitate the basic minimum of provision of an education which would address the potential of exceptionally able children. While there is support for ‘special needs children’ – a term which has come to denote children at only one end of the intellectual spectrum, there is an assumption that ‘stronger’ students do not need specific supports. This is far from the truth.

Education, in what ever form one cares to envisage it, should be about helping children develop an awareness of their potential and then helping them achieve that potential. I will explore another day how this can be done. Suffice to say that a lot of what passes for education today is in fact ‘instruction’. Teachers are required to teach to a curriculum but the pressure (in some countries) to increase national attainment levels (or in Ireland, ensure children get enough points for their college course) means that teachers can find themselves in a system that forces them to ‘teach to the test’. The ‘No Child Left Behind’ program and even the current US administration’s efforts to raise standards are examples of this. In this climate, true learning is replaced by rote-learning. The net result is actually to undermine the original intention – not that that intention is laudable in the first instance.

I fear that this trend is one that will continue for some time until institutional actors realise that it is counter productive. There is much talk of providing students will the skills they will need for their future life. But what is actually intended is that students will develop skills relevant to the workplace of the contemporary economy (the ‘original intention’ referred to above). The notion that children would receive an education that would help them self-actualise seems non-existant. (quick aside: it really beggars belief that a child can go through 12 years education and not come out knowing the ONE thing they are best at)

The twist of this particular knife is that an awareness of the needs of gifted children can go a long way to changing the dynamic of an exceptionally able child’s presence in the classroom and in fact reduce the demands on a teacher, at least during class time. Yet this awareness is often missing. And often when it exists it is accompanied by the fear of being challenged or shown up by a student.

The role of a World Gifted Education Awareness Day (WGEAD) would be to target educational institutions (at all levels) and teachers in order to provide awareness of the needs of exceptionally able children and to provide guidance as to how to address those needs.

Institutional Actors for Involvement (or selection thereof)
Recognised international organisations which could play a role in promoting WGAD e.g. EU, ASEAN..
Education International
UN Member State’s Government department with responsibility for education
World Council for Gifted and Talented Children
Individual States’ Teacher Unions
Individual States’ Gifted associations
Commercial Organisations which could assist in promoting WGAD

Central to the idea is that the cost of promoting such a day would be borne by the organisations above at the level of their involvement, eg. UN/UNESCO would promote to member states; National governments would promote through their education departments, teacher unions through their members. The cost of this need not be huge.

A website would be developed that would be a central HIGHLY STRUCTURED resource providing primary, secondary and tertiary teachers with information and tools to assist the adoption of gifted education strategies within their classroom.

Participating organisation could decide their level of involvement but the ultimate aim is the dissemination of information to promote awareness of the educational needs of gifted children and the means by which their educational needs can be met in schools and colleges.

WGEAD is not an opportunity for one individual, organisation or agency to scratch their ego. I know how fantastic________________(fill in name) is. When egos get in the way of the common good, the common good suffers, often to the point of destruction. To this end, all the above is copyrighted but I accept the principals of GNU public licence. I’m going to see how much I can get done at my end of the planet. If you would like to join me, jump on board and let’s see if we can achieve our potential.